Set Them Free

This is a remix project. The initial 2 minutes are a presentation of the original track, recorded in 1973 by the People's Temple Choir, originally on the beautiful gospel album "He's Able." You may listen to the entire album here.

set_them_free by 3_spds

Performed at Sushi Art Gallery on March 4th, 2011.

I need to address the fact that the religious group who recorded this album partook in one of the most infamous mass suicides of the 20th century. In reappropriating their material, I wanted to avoid the stale irony and cynicism that so many popular culture representations of Jonestown indulge in. To me, the earnest joy of the congregation seems the most interesting, and the best way to honor the memories of those 900 people (among them 300 children) who passed on because they believed they were going to a better place.

Perhaps the cynical or jocular representations of suicide cults come from a fear of their leaders' charisma. I initially found myself worried I would be "brainwashed" by listening to their record, but soon it became apparent just how foolish that fear is. Despite the utter human tragedy it has come to represent, I have had this song stuck in my head for days now, and now it makes me smile.

At the time of this recording, they believed they had found the key to happiness and equality. By the time of the 1978 incident, who can say how much dissent was in their midst, or how much of the event constituted murder rather than suicide? I have intentionally left the leader out of my representation, because I don't want to honor him, but I find it contradictory to the representation of these people to actively dishonor him in the piece. Also, he was clearly not having as much fun as these folks were. I want to portray the giddy ecstasy of the followers without judging them on their admittedly outlandish beliefs. In other words, I want to set them free of the shadows and paint them in the light they were seeking in the first place.

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